Five leadership lessons from Arsene Wenger

By Kier Wiater-Carnihan Monday, 29 October 2012

Arsene Wenger has managed Arsenal for fourteen years straight. Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson is the only manager to have spent longer at his current club. So how can you emulate the staying power of the man they call ‘Le Professor’?

1. Make your name synonymous with your brand


That was the headline in the Evening Standard when Arsène Wenger arrived in London in 1996 following two years in the managerial wilderness at Japanese side Nagoya Grampus 8. Tony Adams, Arsenal’s then captain, recalls thinking, ‘What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher’. An inspirational leader on the pitch but a hopeless alcoholic off it, Adams defined a club thirsty for both success and the strong stuff, riddled with epic drinking sessions, out of control gambling, eating competitions and cocaine abuse (and that was just Paul Merson’s pre-match warm up).

Now it is Wenger who defines Arsenal. He immediately replaced the card schools and liquid lunches with dieticians and acupuncturists, bringing a continental outlook to the club and developing a free-flowing, attacking style of play. Fans under twenty-years-old haven’t known the club without him, and his association with the Arsenal brand is so strong that even a distinct lack of recent success hasn’t threatened to sever it. If you can achieve that level of personal identification with a brand – think Sir Stuart Rose and M&S, O’Leary with Ryanair – your position will be similarly unshakeable.

2. A beautiful game is less important than a beautiful balance sheet

For the last seven seasons, Arsenal have come about as close to winning trophies as the government has to implementing successful economic policy but the board remains absolutely delighted with Wenger’s work. When American real estate billionaire and sports mogul ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke took a controlling stake in the club four years ago, some suggested he might want to bring in his own man. From a financial point of view, he’d have been mad to do so. An investor looking to profitably navigate the sheik ‘n’ oligarch dominated, regulation-light ‘Wild West’ of British football couldn’t choose a better steward than Wenger. An economics graduate in an environment where possessing anything beyond a GCSE is a rarity, his attention to fiscal detail is unwavering.
Most importantly for the balance sheet, he’s also taken Arsenal into the lucrative Champions League every season since he arrived. At last week’s AGM, an increasingly fractious affair, he reiterated his belief that qualification for the competition is more important than winning a domestic trophy. Driving home the fact that Arsenal FC now plays second fiddle to Arsenal Holdings PLC, chairman Peter Hill-Wood later insisted that it had been ‘an extremely good year’ for the club, a statement that was met with derision by many fans.

And as long as Wenger continues to get the team into the Champions League, he’ll be richly rewarded. With an estimated annual salary of €9m, ‘Le Boss’ currently takes home a higher salary than Sir Alex Ferguson (€8.5m). The latter, it’s worth pointing out, has won four league titles, three league cups and a Champions League since Arsenal’s FA Cup victory on penalties against Manchester United in 2005. It goes to show that shareholders are generally less worried about competitors’ successes if their own bank balance is firmly in the black.

3. Invest in youth, but don’t expect loyalty

Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira, Kolo Toure, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie; all signed by Arsenal at a young age as virtual unknowns (Fabregas had never even played first-team football) but all sold for many times their initial fees. Along with players like Thierry Henry, they owe a large part of their careers to Wenger’s confidence and nurturing, while he in turn has benefited from the policy of targeting younger players – identifying a talent early is much more cost-effective than trying to compete for the biggest names, especially when your rivals can out-spend you.

However, while the top players Wenger develops frequently talk up his significant influence on their careers, many still seem to end up taking said careers elsewhere. Every close season seems to bring a transfer saga more tedious and predictable than even the most protracted of Eastenders storylines, inevitably ending with another high-profile exit. The club may make a huge return on these players, but fans would argue that £20m-worth of profit on van Persie might not be as valuable as, you know, actually having van Persie. Sadly, while harnessing young talent and launching fledgling careers is satisfying and can be profitable, you must be hard-nosed and recognise that team members will move on.

4. It’s great to have a philosophy, but don’t stick to it too rigidly

There’s no denying that Wenger’s Arsenal has produced some fine football over the years. Yet Wenger’s preferred formula of favouring technical superiority over tactical pragmatism seems to fail increasingly frequently. Partly this is because Arsenal doesn’t possess the same level of collective technical ability as they once did, but it’s also because other teams have learnt how to stifle and frustrate them. Yet Wenger continues to send his team out in the same formation, playing the same tactics, in virtually every game. It’s like going out every day in a crisp pair of suede shoes regardless of the weather forecast – sure you’ll look fantastic most of the time, but when it starts raining you’ll look like a berk.

You can’t assume that a certain strategy which brings rewards for a while will remain effective forever. Arsenal’s consistent financial prudence is different – their spending power has been hampered by the huge expense of building the Emirates Stadium, thanks to a few less-than-lucrative commercial deals. It is also partially an attempt to future-proof the club against Uefa’s planned Financial Fair Play directive, under which clubs will face strict penalties if they fail to control their debts. If FFP were to be brought in tomorrow, Arsenal would pass with ease while their rivals would struggle to hide the liabilities loading down their ledgers. Sadly there’s no guarantee that said rivals wouldn’t find a loophole to worm their way through, but if the FFP arrives bearing teeth then Arsenal’s financial strategy will look very smart indeed.

Wenger’s work to get the club into that position is why he’s one of the only football managers you’d trust to run an actual business. Few of his peers could’ve kept a team so near the top of the Premier League while financing a huge new stadium, and for that he deserves credit. However, just as some Gunners have misgivings about their football club being run like a business, you’d generally be wise to avoid running your business like a football club. No one wants a Glasgow Rangers on their hands after all.

5. Delegation is not a sign of weakness

In 2006, Wenger hired former Arsenal defender Martin Keown on a temporary basis to help out the coaching staff. That year, despite their defence being heavily depleted through injury, Arsenal embarked on a record-breaking run of ten consecutive Champions League matches without conceding a goal, leading to a début appearance in the season’s show-piece finale. Keown was widely perceived as being pivotal in tightening a previously leaky defence, yet his services were not retained the following season. Arsenal have not been close to a Champions League final since.

Pat Rice’s replacement as assistant manager, Steve Bould, had partnered Keown in a mean central defence as a player, and received similarly praise for shoring up Arsenal’s defence at the beginning of this season, with the team conceding just three goals in their opening six matches. However, this newly found steel seems to have dissolved of late. Former player Stewart Robson has suggested the sudden loss of form stems from a rumoured rift between Bould and Wenger. ‘I hoped that [Bould] would do more with the defence,’ Robson admitted, ‘but I’m not sure whether he’s being allowed to do that by Arsène Wenger’.

Wenger is sometimes painted as an inflexible control freak and perhaps a part of it is simply an effort to keep his job secure – the more he does himself, the harder it is for one man to replace him. Other staff being credited for on-field triumphs could also be viewed as a threat. Still, MT would advise against autocracy. ‘Always employ people who are smarter than you,’ goes the old adage. Not only does this strategy reap greater rewards in the long run, but AGMs will be a whole lot less volatile too…


Do You Have Everything Except a Marketing Strategy?

Communications Tactics Will Not Take You Far Enough

By: Al Ries Published: August 02, 2011

Who decides: 1) What products and services to offer; 2) What to name those products and services; and 3) What distribution channels to use to sell those products and services?
In my opinion, these are primarily marketing issues. Yet in our work with companies large and small, we don’t see many marketing people calling the shots on 1) Products; 2) Names; and 3) Distribution.

Instead, marketing people tend to focus on “communications” issues. They spend most of their time figuring out how to interest prospects in their companies’ current product lines. Sure, communications are important, but they are only the tactics of a marketing program. The other half, the more important half, is strategy.

The two are related. In order to improve the communications, it often is necessary to make changes in strategy. In products, names, pricing, distribution, etc. And who is in a better position to suggest such changes than an experienced marketing person?

Yet who is calling the shots on marketing strategy? Mostly top management people.

What’s the strategy of Hewlett-Packard?
As best as I can determine, here is H-P’s new strategy as outlined in an interview The Wall Street Journal conducted with its new CEO Leo Apotheker.

  • Invest more in software, networking and storage.
  • Emphasize systems that combine these functions.
  • Increase spending on research.
  • Focus on cloud computing.
  • Build a business helping companies build cloud-computing setups.
  • Increase sales to telecom firms.

This is typical of a top-management approach to strategy. Let’s increase sales by expanding the brand in all directions.
Now, how is marketing going to execute Hewlett-Packard’s new strategy? By positioning the company as a leader in “software, networking, storage and cloud computing”? And, of course, personal computers.

Most companies take a similar approach. What’s the strategy of Dell, the world’s third-largest seller of PCs? Same as H-P. Expand the brand in all directions.

What’s the strategy of Wells Fargo?
According to the Journal, “Wells Fargo plans insurance growth.”

“The effort comes at a time when loan demand remains tepid and, given the size of Wells, growth in banking is hard to achieve,” reported the Journal. “Other units the bank is expanding include securities brokerage and investment banking.”

Insurance makes up a tiny portion of the bank’s revenues, last year, about 2.5%. Didn’t Wells Fargo study what happened when Citicorp merged with Travelers Group to form Citigroup? (Four years later, Citigroup spun off Travelers in an IPO.)

Maybe this is heresy in a world smitten with the line-extension religion, but why doesn’t Wells Fargo focus on banking? It’s the smallest of the big four, after Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase.

I would think Well Fargo would want to move up the banking ladder before trying to climb the insurance ladder.

What’s the strategy of Romney, Bachmann, Cain, et al?
So far, there are eight Republican presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman.

Do you know the verbal position of any of these eight?

I don’t think they have any.

Doesn’t anyone remember “Change we can believe in?” After Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, I would have thought that any future presidential candidate would summarize his or her campaign with a few memorable words. But so far, no one has.

Apparently, nobody wants to be tied down to a single idea or concept. Everybody wants to be free to expand their campaigns in all directions, depending on which way the wind blows.

Take Jon Huntsman. “He resigned just 11 weeks ago as the U.S. ambassador to China,” reported The Journal, “but already Jon Huntsman has a logo, a musical theme, a small arsenal of promotional videos, a Hollywood narrator and a line of travel mugs, lapel pins, baseball caps and T-shirts emblazoned with the distinctive H of his infant presidential campaign. He even has a generation named after himself. Generation H, his campaign calls it.”

Jon Huntsman has everything except a marketing strategy.

What is strategy anyway?
Dictionary definition: “The science of planning and directing large-scale military operations, specifically maneuvering forces into the most advantageous position prior to engagement with the enemy.”

And what is the most advantageous position? According to Carl von Clausewitz, the world’s most-famous military strategist, “Keep the forces concentrated in an overpowering mass. The fundamental idea always to be aimed at before all and as far as possible.”

Strategy is like a garden hose with an adjustable nozzle. Turn it one way to increase the concentration and out comes a powerful stream of water that could knock down a child. Turn it the other way and out comes a fine mist that wouldn’t harm a butterfly.

Almost every military strategist recommends “concentration of forces,” while almost every business strategist recommends “scatteration of forces.”

We used to run a series of seminars entitled “Marketing Warfare.” One of our luncheon speakers was William Westmoreland, the four-star general who commanded U.S. military operations in Vietnam. After watching some of our presentations, Gen. Westmoreland expressed surprise that marketing people found anything new in our lectures. Everybody knows these military principles, he said.

Not so.

Hewlett-Packard has just 17.5% of the world market for personal computers. One would think the company would focus on making Hewlett-Packard a dominant brand like Windows (90%) or Google (75%) or iPod (70%) before trying to expand in all directions.

Everything about marketing strategy parallels military strategy. The principle of force. The superiority of the defense. The advantage of flanking. And most importantly, the principle of focus.

There is one difference. Marketing is about brands, not companies. You can successfully expand a company, but not usually a brand.

Apple has become the world’s second most-valuable company, not by expanding the Apple brand, but by launching new brands: Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, iPad.

Marketing: A discipline in decline?
Is this what marketing has become? A discipline that execute strategies designed by somebody else. If so, I have a message for marketers, borrowed from Tennyson.

Forward Marketing Brigade!
Was there a person dismay’d?
Not tho’ marketers knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

DISCOUNTITUS, The Disease that’s sweeping the marketing community

Positioning Is the Only Cure

Published: July 06, 2011
Al Ries
Last month, J.C. Penney hired a new chief executive who used to run Apple stores. In a New York Times article, here’s how CEO Ron Johnson described his plans for Penney: “Take this great American brand and make it become something unbelievably exciting.”
Fat chance.
Most department stores are infected
You seldom see a department-store advertisement based on anything except a sale. The latest J.C. Penney ad was a six-page insert promoting a “Fourth of July sale.”
In addition to dozens of “super hot buys,” the insert features “Red Zone clearance, final-markdowns 80% off. New markdowns 50-70% off.” Also featured is “jcpCA$H,” offering consumers “$10 off any purchase totaling $25 & up.”
Belk, Dillards, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears and most mainstream department stores are also infected bydiscountitus.
Kohl’s, in particular. A typical mailing: “Start with these incredible sale prices of 20-60% off. Take an extra 15% off everything. Plus add a $5 bonus.”
Airlines to pizza to car insurance
In industry after industry, the discount is the focus of the advertising.
Here’s the opening dialog of a typical Progressive commercial featuring Flo and a potential customer.
“Are you a safe driver?”
“Discount! Do you own a home?”
“Discount! Are you gonna buy online?”
Over at Geico, “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.” Geico and Progressive are the biggest spenders in the category. Last year Geico spent $741 million on advertising. Progressive, $506 million. Longtime car-insurance leaders like State Farm ($453 million) and Allstate ($368 million) are lagging behind.
Penney vs. Apple
Over at J.C. Penney, if Ron Johnson plans to use an Apple strategy to turn his company around, it’s too late. Once discountitus has spread through an industry, it’s awfully hard to eradicate.
Take airlines. Yesterday, airline companies competed on the basis of who could build the better brand. Today, airline companies compete on the basis of who can offer the bigger discounts. No wonder Southwest Airlines is a big winner, and most airline customers can’t explain the difference between American, Delta and United.
One reason why discountitus is spreading so rapidly is the internet. Clipping coupons is being replaced by typing on keyboards. Groupon and the other daily-deal websites are only one factor. Anybody who owns a computer today can get competitive prices on a host of items almost instantly.
Unless you want to spend the rest of your life doing discount marketing, you should be asking yourself, “What’s the cure?”
Believers vs. agnostics
Take a closer look at the consumer a company is trying to reach with its advertising and PR.
Psychologically, consumers can be divided into two categories: 1) Brand believers and 2) Brand agnostics. And they vary by category. They can be believers in one category (ketchup) and agnostics in another category (airlines).
Watch believers go through the Sunday supplements. They only clip coupons for brands they already use.
Watch agnostics go through the Sunday supplements. They ignore brands and clip coupons for categories. (Extreme agnostics don’t buy anything without a coupon.)
Discountitus is turning brand believers into brand agnostics. The lure of a “big discount” is enough to seduce a consumer into thinking that all brands in the category are pretty much alike.
In categories that have not been seriously contaminated, the cure for discountitus is a dose of positioning. But as Prophet, a leading marketing consultancy, reported in its latest state of marketing study: “Positioning has always been about differentiation. But in this unfolding environment, differentiation is short-lived.”
We differ on that. The cure for discountitus is not differentiation. Nor is positioning essentially about differentiation, either.
Positioning is owning a word in the mind
As discountitus spreads its way through the marketing community, that word more often than not is “leadership.”
Leadership is what makes Google the most powerful brand in the “search” category. Leadership is what makes iPod the most powerful brand in the “MP3 player” category. Leadership is what makes Heinz, Hertz, Haagen-Daz, Hellmann’s, Home Depot and a host of other brands powerful in their categories.
But how to you get to be the leader? And how does the leader keep from catching the discountitus disease?
Launch a new brand in a new category
Over the past few decades, it’s become clear that the only way to become a leader is to launch a new brand in a new category.
Like Apple did with the iPad, the first tablet-computer. Currently, the iPad has some 75% of the tablet market.
An also-ran that has been line-extended to death has no hope of ever becoming the market leader. The best it can do is to narrow its focus to shore up a position in a segment of the category.
Has Pepsi-Cola ever substantially increased its share of the cola market with Pepsi-Cola Retro, Pepsi Throwback, Pepsi Twist, Pepsi Natural, Pepsi Raw, Pepsi A.M., Pepsi Kona, Pepsi Light, Pepsi Max, Pepsi XL, Pepsi Blue, Pepsi One or Crystal Pepsi?
No, it has not. In fact, regular Pepsi-Cola has fallen behind Diet Coke to third place in the cola category.
What’s next for Pepsi-Cola? More of the same. Pepsi Next.
Lower the boom on price
If you read the papers, you know the regular price of most products or services on the market today is “50% off.”
Every Thursday, our local newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, features “This week’s best deals.” Last week, there were eight. One was “free.” One was “40% off” and the other six were “50% off.”
That’s not unusual. By far, the vast majority of daily deals are 50% off or BOGO — buy one, get one free.
When rumors of Apple’s imminent launch of a tablet computer circulated on the internet, the pundits predicted the product would be priced around a thousand dollars.
Apple surprised them with a list price of $495. The company lowered the boom at a level that competitors had difficulty getting under. Today, you find the table-computer market remarkably free of discountitus.
Apple used the same strategy with its iTunes brand by insisting on a 99-cent price. (Don’t feel sorry for Apple. The company is making its money on volume, not on margin.)
When you’re the leader in a category, you cannot be overtaken by a competitor who thinks differentiation is going to make a big difference.
And when you’re the leader in the category and you lower the boom on price, you can inoculate the category from the disease of discountitus.

Al Ries is chairman of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm he runs with his daughter Laura.

Inamori: ‘Hebzucht oorzaak van crisis’

| 22 mrt 2011 | Peter Boerman |

De onbegrensde menselijke hebzucht is de belangrijkste oorzaak van de financiële crisis. Dat zegt Kazuo Inamori, de bekendste Japanse ondernemer ooit, oprichter van Kyocera en KDDI, en nu, op 77-jarige leeftijd, onbezoldigd ceo van de noodlijdende vliegtuigmaatschappij JAL.

Volgens Inamori zouden bedrijven niet op hun eigen winst moeten focussen, maar op wat goed is voor de samenleving als geheel. Hij gelooft in de principes van ‘genoeg is genoeg’ en dat de hebzucht aan banden moet worden gelegd. Volgens hem is altruïsme een veel betere winstgenerator op lange termijn dan hebzucht: bescheidenheid levert meer op dan arrogantie. ‘De correcte manier om een bedrijf te leiden is een stevige financiële onderbouwing, die in staat is ook zware economische tijden te doorstaan’, zei hij recent tegen USA Today.

Inamori, niet alleen een van de rijkste Japanners, maar ook een van de grootste filantropen van het land, waarschuwt voor verdere groei van het ongebreideld kapitalisme. ‘Het voedsel en de energie op deze planeet zijn beperkt. Het zou voor iedereen duidelijk moeten zijn dat een onbeperkte welvaart en comfortabele levensstijl onmogelijk is vol te houden, in het licht van de beperking van de bronnen van de aarde. De tijd is gekomen om fundamenteel te heroverwegen hoe de mens en de natuur kunnen samenleven binnen de beperkte ruimte van onze planeet.

Ongetwijfeld de bekendste Japanse ondernemer, filantroop en Zen-boeddhistisch priester onder de naam Daiwa (‘grote harmonie’). In 1959, op 27-jarige leeftijd richtte hij Kyoto Ceramic Co op, de voorloper van het huidige hightechconglomeraat Kyocera, dat nu 66.000 mensen in dienst heeft. In 1984 volgde DDI, wat nu als KDDI Japans op één na grootste telecommunicatiebedrijf is. In 2009 werd Inamori door de Japanse overheid gevraagd om op 77-jarige leeftijd (!) ceo te worden van het noodlijdende Japan AirLines. Hij schreef vele boeken over zijn managementfilosofie, waarin de klant en het lot van de mensheid centraal staat, en won tal van Awards, met name in de Verenigde Staten. In 1984 richtte hij naast DDI ook de Inamori Foundation op, die sindsdien voor een belangrijk deel de Kyoto-prijzen betaalt en bepaalt. Die prijzen, ter grootte van zo’n 400.000 euro, zijn gaan gelden als een soort alternatieve Nobelprijs voor drie gebieden die die prijs niet bestrijkt: Geavanceerde Technologie, Elementaire Wetenschappen, en Schone kunsten en Filosofie.

Bekend van
Veel dingen: de naar hem genoemde Foundation, de oprichting en het jarenlange werk voor hightechconglomeraat Kyocera en in 1984 de oprichting van DDI. Maar vooral ook van zijn vele lezingen en boeken over zijn inzichten, zoals Amoeba Management, A Compass to Fulfillment, Life – The Most Important Thing as a Human, A Passion for Succes, Kazuo Inamori’s Pragmatic Studies: Management and Accounting en The Philosophy of Kazuo Inamori. Hij is ook voorzitter van Seiwajyuku, een privaat opleidingsinstituut voor business leaders, die doceert op 62 locaties,waarvan 9 buiten Japan. Sinds januari 2010 is daar een nieuwe rol bijgekomen, toen Japan Airlines zo goed als failliet ging en Inamori gevraagd werd het bedrijf door de herstructurering heen te loodsen. Inamori, sinds zijn pensionering officieel gewijd als Zen-priester, zei ja, zodat hij zich nu weer ceo mag noemen. Zonder salaris, want dat heeft hij geweigerd.

Nog steeds is op elke Kyocera-website de missie van het bedrijf te lezen, zoals neergelegd door Inamori: “Onze hoogste roeping als mensen is om voor het grotere belang van de mensheid en de samenleving te werken.” Vooral zijn ideeën over ‘Amoebe management’ zijn bekend geworden. Het is een filosofie die veel wegheeft van die van onze eigen Eckart Wintzens celfilosofie. Inamori gelooft erin zijn bedrijven op te delen in kleine units, ‘amoebes’ genaamd. Die units worden geleid door mensen die vanuit het eigen bedrijf doorstromen, zodat er veel mensen managementervaring opdoen. In iedere amoebe kunnen leden hun kennis en kunde inbrengen om de eigen doelen te bereiken. Hierdoor ontstaat in Inamori’s woorden: ‘management by all’. Zeker ook omdat hij er een boekhoudmanier bij verzon, die echte transparantie van de amoebes afdwong, zodat iedereen de stand van zaken kan doorzien. Volgens Inamori moet de boekhouding eruit zien als het instrumentenpaneel van een piloot: alle informatie moet kloppen, omdat hierop gevlogen wordt naar de gewenste bestemming. Hij zegt zelf gelukkig te zijn dat hij nooit iets geleerd heeft van accounting: daardoor kon hij de vragen stellen die nodig waren om elke keer ‘het goede’ te doen.

‘Te veel mensen denken alleen aan eigen gewin. Maar businesskansen kloppen zelden op de deur van egocentrische mensen. Geen klant gaat ooit naar een winkel alleen om de winkelier een plezier te doen.’

‘You’ve Got to Tell Stories That Grab People by the Collar,’ Says Risk-Taking CEO

How Chrysler Chief Olivier Francois Is Selling Detroit

By David Kiley

Published: February 21, 2011

Joel Martin, principal of Eight Mile Style Music and co-owner of Eminem’s song catalog, is used to getting the cold shoulder from Michigan automakers who have generally found the rap artist’s song lyrics too spicy for their mainstream audiences. So, imagine his surprise when he got a call on his cellphone one day last December from an assistant at his Ferndale, Mich., office that said “The president of Chrysler is here looking for you.”

The assistant didn’t have it quite right. Olivier François is CEO of the Chrysler brand, as well as chief marketing officer for all of Chrysler, which includes the Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands. He’s also CEO of Fiat’s Lancia brand in Europe and CMO of Fiat. And to know how Mr. François operates is to know that it was very much in character for him to drive over to Mr. Martin’s office with no appointment, hoping, or even expecting, that he would be there to discuss using a classic Eminem song, “Lose Yourself,” in a Super Bowl ad. In the end, the meeting took place at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night.

Mr. François, 49, on the job at Chrysler for 15 months, is gaining a reputation among his ad agencies, dealers and staff for surprising them and taking the kinds of risks that make them feel more confident than they ever did while owned by German carmaker Daimler or private-equity firm Cerberus Capital. His latest roll of the dice was a two-minute, $9 million Super Bowl ad, featuring Eminem’s anthem and the rap star himself, to launch a new strategy and tagline around the Chrysler brand: “Imported From Detroit.”

“He’s a maniac,” said Mr. Martin of Mr. François, noting that he and Eminem turned down over 100 deals to use the song in ads before agreeing to sell it to Chrysler. “The whole thing had a surreal quality to it … this French guy and all this he was telling us about loving Detroit and how important [Eminem] is to the city.” If it weren’t for Mr. François’s salesmanship, “We never would have done it,” he said.

While the gambit took a lot of ad-watchers off-guard, the idea of featuring the city of Detroit and playing up the heritage and history of making cars is not a new idea. “This idea has come up for Chrysler, Chevrolet and Pontiac a handful of times in the last 20 years,” said Gary Topolewski, an independent creative director who has worked on Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and other car brands. “But it always got shot down by the executives who have worked in Detroit their whole lives, fearing it wouldn’t play on the coasts.”

But Mr. François greenlighted the idea, which originated with Wieden & Kennedy.

“Maybe it takes people from outside the city to see the possibilities and passion,” said Mr. François. Of the four brands he took over, Chrysler has been the biggest challenge. It is not generally viewed as a luxury brand, but he is positioning it as “new” luxury. “Beautiful, passionate design and comfort for people who don’t forget where they came from,” said the Paris-born Mr. François, who thought he would enter the diplomatic corps after getting a political science degree in the late 1980s. An advertising and marketing degree from Sorbonnes Celsa, however, led him to Citroen and then Fiat.

When Fiat took control of Chrysler after the federally assisted bankruptcy, it didn’t take long for Mr. François to hit on the need to change the way the company thought about its messaging. Long-time agency BBDO was served notice after working on the Chrysler business for 65 years. A review ensued in which agencies had to prepare strategies for Chrysler, Dodge and Ram Truck brands. The Richards Group of Dallas won Ram; Fallon Worldwide took Chrysler and Wieden & Kennedy took on Dodge. Global Hue retained Jeep and multicultural duties.

Since then, Mr. François has restructured things, separating agencies by job rather than brand. Wieden now leads on all national branding for Chrysler and Dodge. Global Hue remains lead agency on Jeep, though Wieden produced the launch campaign for Jeep Grand Cherokee in 2010, and will continue to compete for national Jeep model launches. Doner, Southfield, Mich., replaced Fallon when the latter resigned Chrysler to take on General Motors’ Cadillac, and handles the retail-driven ads for all four brands. Richards retains Ram, with the thinking that the truck market is a unique ad space, and also because Chrysler plans to introduce more models — such as commercial vans — under the “Ram” brand. And Global Hue handles multicultural ads on all four brands.

“Things sorted themselves out based on which agency was doing the best job at each function,” said Mr. François, who admits it can be tough for agencies to work with him because of how much he gets involved “as a creator.”

Quick on his feet
He is known for making fast decisions mostly on instinct. “Meetings tend to run fast, and ideas don’t get a lot of wind-up,” said Richards Group CEO Stan Richards. In November 2009, Mr. François approved putting “rip” videos (mood videos created with stock photography and voiced by agency staff used largely for internal use) produced by Richards for Ram truck and Global Hue for Jeep on national TV as commercials despite low production values. “I was shocked, but I did not object,” said Mr. Richards, whose voice was on the ad, with a laugh.

Last August, Mr. François approved an idea after just a few minutes of brainstorming with Wieden staffers on how to respond to protests from animal-rights groups over the use of a chimp in a Dodge retail ad — the chimp was removed, but the clothes he was wearing were left behind, giving the ad an odd “invisible chimp” effect. Not only was PETA pleased, but the new commercial went viral; the original hadn’t. And for an Independence Day-timed Dodge ad, he approved a spot showing George Washington leading a column of Continental soldiers into battle against British redcoats driving Dodge Challengers. “Some of our team had a lot of doubts, but I knew right away and approved it off the storyboards,” Mr. François said.

Advertising “American” for Detroit automakers has been a kind of taboo, especially since, until recently, they badly lagged Asian companies such as Toyota and Honda. But Mr. François and his agencies have injected images of Americana and messages of pride, hard work and reward into their ads. “We’re from America,” proclaimed the Super Bowl ad. “The things that make us American are the things we make,” go the Jeep ads. Mr. François hints that he has much more in store to link the Chrysler brand to the comeback of the city of Detroit, in which he wants Chrysler to be a key player.

“You can do this sort of thing very badly,” said independent marketing consultant Dennis Keene. “But I have to say that Chrysler is bringing so much art to the messaging that I think it flies, though they are walking right on the line.”

Doner CEO David Demuth says working with Mr. François is “like working with a creative director on the client side.” He doesn’t just approve or reject ideas or storyboards like most CMOs. For example, trained early in his life in music, Mr. François sits down with composers and tells them exactly what he wants or is looking for. For the Super Bowl ad, he worked with composer Luis Resto on the adaptation of “Lose Yourself.”

The ad did not include Eminem’s lyrics, just the music. Wieden cast Detroit gospel choir Selected By God to perform in the Super Bowl ad, but it was Mr. François, said Mr. Resto, who directed the crescendo leading into Eminem’s line: “This is the Motor City. This is what we do.” Added Mr. Resto, “How many car marketing guys can sit down and tell you why he wants a ‘melancholy piano’…that was a first for me.” Indeed, Mr. François, who does not play piano, has nevertheless composed or co-composed music for numerous Lancia and Fiat ads. He gets no royalties or payments.

What he’s doing is importing the strategy to Chrysler that he has long used in Europe on Lancia ads. “You’ve got to tell stories that grab people by the collar, and that’s what we try to do,” said Mr. François. In a 2007 ad for the Lancia, he approached fashion designer and gay icon Stefan Gabbana to appear in an ad. Mr. Gabbana initially refused. But after Mr. François laid out the storyline of the ad in which Mr. Gabbana, driving a Lancia Delta, would be tempted by a beautiful woman and end up in a passionate kiss, he not only agreed, he agreed to do it for no fee. The ad created a publicity sensation in Europe and a sequel was produced.

Mr. François coyly said he does not like to use “spokespeople.” But his two ever-present BlackBerrys run deep with celebrities who have appeared in his ads: Carla Bruni Sarkozy, Richard Gere and even the Dalai Llama. Of those, only Mr. Gere took a fee, and it was for his charity. Even Eminem sold Chrysler rights to his song for 20% of what he could have gotten just to be part of the ad. Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody directed a Chrysler ad late last year, his commercial directing debut, and voiced the ad as well.

No stranger to risks
Clearly Mr. François doesn’t mind poking at beehives. He launched the Richard Gere ad spotlighting the plight of Tibet the week the Beijing Olympics kicked off. And for the past three years he created Lancia ads to run the week of the annual World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates to spotlight the imprisonment of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a Myanmar pro-democracy leader. The ads show laureates arriving in Lancias, and close to show a Lancia’s rear door opening with no laureate riding in the backseat, representing Ms. Suu Kyi’s absence. Mr. François was editing the latest ad when he got word Ms. Suu Kyi would be released, necessitating fast changes to the ad, which he directed from a Delta Airlines flight.

Given his track record, few doubt Mr. François’ ability to get attention for Chrysler’s slowly recovering brands. The Super Bowl ad, for example, generated more online buzz and news coverage than Chevy’s five ads combined. Dodge brand CEO Ralph Gilles defends Mr. François’s penchant for risk-taking. “People get all the product information they need online … the role of the ads should be to light a fire under them, and drive them online to check us out.”

But Mr. François has to turn those bursts of attention into sales and favorable opinion. Chrysler’s retail market share before Fiat took it over in 2009 was 8.9%, according to Automotive News figures, and by 2010, it hit 9.4%. In the three years Mr. François ran Citroen in Italy, the brand more than doubled market share to 6.5%.

The Chrysler-Fiat team has worked at breakneck pace since summer 2009 to make dramatic improvements to core vehicles. The 300 makeover alone cost $1 billion. “We are no longer ashamed of the products we are selling,” said brutally frank CEO Sergio Marchionne.

The biggest obstacle is the mostly terrible quality ratings from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power. The makeover has corrected many past sins, but it will take two to three years for the ratings to move up to reflect it because of how the organizations work their rankings, and even longer for consumers to trust.

Chrysler this year plans to do its initial public offering in the fall. It’s imperative that institutional investors and stock analysts believe Mr. Marchionne’s team and operation is headed in the right direction. Not only do retail sales need to climb, but the overall operation, from product to marketing, needs to have credibility with investors and the public.

Last year, Mr. François commissioned a corporate ad effort from Gotham, New York, but decided not to run it, deciding instead to plow the money into the Jeep Grand Cherokee launch. Said one Chrysler insider, “He knows where the priorities are: sales.”

Eckart Wintzen leeft voort

22 mrt John van Schagen

Precies twee jaar geleden overleed managementgoeroe en succesondernemer Eckart Wintzen. Wat heeft u aan zijn befaamde cellentheorie?

Eckarts Notes
Voor een enkeling die bij de naam van Eckart Joachim Wintzen (1939-2008) nog geen bel hoort rinkelen, stellen wij deze goeroe in vogelvlucht nog even voor. De man was in veel opzichten een markante persoonlijkheid. Een opvallend uiterlijk – baard, lange haarlokken, professorbrilletje en doorgaans in spijkerbroek – combineerde hij met een ongezouten mening en een opvallende bedrijfsfilosofie. Die van de zogeheten cellenstructuur. De medewerkers van zijn Bureau voor Systeem Ontwikkeling (BSO) waren daarbij opgedeeld in kleine, volledig zelfstandig opererende eenheden. Dat denken van kleinschaligheid legde de ondernemer geen windeieren. BSO groeide uit tot multinational met kantoren in 21 landen en een jaaromzet van 375 miljoen euro. De verkoop van het bedrijf aan Philips betekende in 1996 zijn grote klapper.

Houd het intiem
Wintzen heeft een grote fanschare opgebouwd in Nederland. Een van zijn supporters is Sjoerd Keijser, oprichter en mededirecteur van de Lectric Groep. Onder de vlag van de groep hangen zeven apart van elkaar opererende internetbedrijven. Elke bv kent een eigen directeur. “We hebben heel bewust voor deze strategie gekozen”, zegt Keijser. “Je ziet dat kennis in de intimiteit van een kleine groep meer tot wasdom komt. Mensen zijn veel meer betrokken bij de organisatie en voelen de verantwoordelijkheid voor hun handelen. Doordat je klein bent, hebben medewerkers minder mogelijkheden om zich te verschuilen achter collega’s.”

Leger aan accountmanagers
De Lectric Groep telt tweehonderd medewerkers, maar in geen enkele bv werken meer dan 65 mensen. Houd het klein, zo verwoordt Keijser de Wintzen-filosofie. En ga splitsen zodra de toko te groot wordt. Dat komt ook het contact met uw clientèle ten goede. “Doordat je kennis decentraliseert, komen klanten razendsnel bij de juiste mensen. Je voorkomt dan dat er in de organisatie legers met accountmanagers ontstaan die eigenlijk weinig toegevoegde waarde hebben.”

Persoonlijk ondernemerschap
Wintzen was een groot prediker van persoonlijk ondernemerschap op de werkvloer. Iets dat bij trainingsbureau Schouten & Nelissen dagelijks terugkomt. “Onderdeel van de celfilosofie is dat je je corporate staf beperkt en de mensen zelf resultaatverantwoordelijk maakt voor hun handelen”, zegt directeur Nicole Eggermont. “Zo werken wij ook. Bij veel adviesbureaus zie je juist dat er wordt gewerkt met partners die het contact met de klant onderhouden. Ons idee is dat je die twee niet te veel uit elkaar moet trekken. Adviseurs van Schouten & Nelissen zijn zoveel mogelijk zelf omzetverantwoordelijk. Bovendien aquireren en onderhouden ze hun eigen traject. Die persoonlijke stijl van werken zorgt ervoor dat onze mensen zich goed in de klanten kunnen verdiepen.”

Deze manier van werken doet volgens Eggermont een enorm appèl op het persoonlijke ondernemerschap en vormt één van de pijlers onder het succes van Schouten & Nelissen. “Je merkt dat mensen zo ook buiten de scope van hun functieomschrijving om zaken willen realiseren. Het betekent een enorme stimulans voor de proactiviteit.”

Word ook een succesvolle loser

22 mrt Rob Hartgers

Dirk Scheringa weet een goed slaatje te slaan uit het DSB-drama. Hoe slaat ook u munt uit een mislukking? Kom er in 3 tips achter.

Het DSB-drama is voor Dirk Scheringa niet alleen kommer en kwel. Zijn lezingen in het land zijn een ware goudmijn. Hoe doe je dat eigenlijk: munt slaan uit een mislukking?

1. Ken geen gêne
Als er iemand weet wat het is om te verliezen, is het internetondernemer Arko van Brakel wel. “Ik ben een paar keer in mijn carrière flink op mijn bek gegaan”, vertelt hij bijna trots. “De eerste keer lik je je wonden, de tweede keer heb je halverwege in de gaten wat er gebeurt, de derde keer zie je het van verre aankomen.”

Waarschijnlijk was iedereen Van Brakels zakelijke mislukkingen allang vergeten, als hij ze in columns en lezingen niet steeds weer oprakelde. Dat doet hij met een reden: hij vindt dat Nederland toleranter moet worden tegenover fouten. “Je moet kunnen verliezen om te kunnen winnen. Mensen die blijven hangen in hun schaamte zullen nooit werkelijk succesvol zijn.”

Zijn ergste fouten maakte Van Brakel naar eigen zeggen in situaties waarin hij niet luisterde naar zijn intuïtie. Zoals in het geval van het jammerlijk mislukte internetbedrijf Jamby. “Ik had er vanaf het begin geen goed gevoel over, maar liet me leiden door wat anderen tegen me zeiden. Achteraf neem ik dat niemand kwalijk. Je toekomst wordt bepaald door de momenten waarop je een beslissing moet nemen. Geen beslissing is ook een beslissing, dat vergeten veel mensen. Ze zoeken een excuus om hun eigen matige presteren te rechtvaardigen. Het is echter vooral de angst om fouten te maken die leidt tot middelmaat.”

2. Ha, een blunder!
Wil je John Vollenbroek echt gelukkig maken, vertel hem dan een anekdote over een grove fout of stevige blunder. “Mensen en organisaties die feilloos willen zijn, maken geen ontwikkeling door”, doceert de ‘foutengoeroe’, die met zijn adviesbureau Human Error Consultancy van fouten zijn beroep wist te maken. “Pas als je je eigen feilbaarheid accepteert, kun je leren van de mislukkingen van anderen. Ik ga er nooit van uit dat ik alles op orde heb. Fouten zijn nu eenmaal nooit uit te sluiten. Je kunt wel de kans op herhaling verkleinen. Vaak gaat het om simpele dingen. Controleer bijvoorbeeld altijd een factuur voor hij de deur uit gaat. Vooral bij routineklussen liggen fouten op de loer.”

Managers hebben het niet makkelijk met mislukkingen, erkent Vollenbroek. “De manager is een januskop. Enerzijds moet hij voorkomen dat er fouten worden gemaakt, anderzijds moet hij niet te bot reageren op gemaakte fouten. Werknemers mogen merken dat je baalt van een fout, maar doe moeite om te begrijpen waarom het misging. En vertel over je eigen mislukkingen.”

Om te illustreren hoe het niet moet, vertelt Vollenbroek een anekdote: “Ik bezocht een fabriek waar een zwaar ongeval was gebeurd. Het bleek dat men op de werkvloer al langer wist van de onveilige omstandigheden. Het hoofd veiligheid vroeg aan een lasser waarom hij dit niet eerder had gemeld. De lasser vertelde dat hij vreesde zijn baan te verliezen als hij kritiek uitte op de werk omstandigheden. Het echte probleem lag dus bij de veiligheidsmanager. Die man sprak nooit met zijn medewerkers.”

3. It’s het calvinisme, stupid!
Niet mogen mislukken is de schuld van onze cultuur, denkt Arjan van Dam, auteur van het boek De kunst van het falen. “Het is het calvinisme. De cultuur van zaaien met de liniaal, het hard afstraffen van fouten. Mensen gaan daar niet harder van lopen,
ze worden hooguit behoedzamer.” In het Nederlandse onderwijs ligt de nadruk te eenzijdig op prestaties, vindt Van Dam. “We leven in een toetscultuur waarin alleen het resultaat telt. Dom, want wie geen lessen trekt uit mislukkingen, gooit het kind met het badwater weg.”

Ook Van Dam ziet fouten als voorwaarde voor succes. “Mensen die bang zijn om op hun bek te gaan, worden nooit succesvol.” Het ergste vindt hij mensen voor wie alleen presteren telt. “Zij zijn alleen uit op een positieve beoordeling of – erger nog – het voorkomen van een negatieve beoordeling. Zo’n werkhouding maakt angstig en depressief. Dat soort mensen gaat uitdagingen uit de weg.”

Geen leermiddel is immers zo effectief als het eigen falen, stelt Van Dam. “Maar ook het falen van anderen kan leerzaam zijn.” Het bijwonen van een spreekbeurt van Dirk Scheringa kan dus best nuttig zijn, concludeert hij. “Maar je moet opletten op wat hij vertelt. Zijn eigen analyse van wat er misging bij DSB is niet automatisch de beste.”

The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs

January 08, 2006
(Since I’ve antagonized the venture capital community with last week’s blog, I thought I would complete the picture and “out” entrepreneurs to begin this week. The hard part about writing this blog was narrowing down these lies to ten. Luckily, my partner, Bill Reichert, had already documented this list of the top ten lies of entrepreneurs.)

We get pitched dozens of times every year, and every pitch contains at least three or four of these lies. We provide them not because we believe we can increase the level of honesty of entrepreneurs as much as to help entrepreneurs come up with new lies. At least new lies indicate a modicum of creativity!

1.“Our projections are conservative.” An entrepreneur’s projections are never conservative. If they were, they would be $0. I have never seen an entrepreneur achieve even her most conservative projections. Generally, an entrepreneur has no idea what sales will be, so she guesses: “Too little will make my deal uninteresting; too big, and I’ll look hallucinogenic.” The result is that everyone’s projections are $50 million in year four. As a rule of thumb, when I see a projection, I add one year to delivery time and multiply by .1.

2.“(Big name research firm) says our market will be $50 billion in 2010.” Every entrepreneur has a few slides about how the market potential for his segment is tens of billions. It doesn’t matter if the product is bar mitzah planning software or 802.11 chip sets. Venture capitalists don’t believe this type of forecast because it’s the fifth one of this magnitude that they’ve heard that day. Entrepreneurs would do themselves a favor by simply removing any reference to market size estimates from consulting firms.

3.“(Big name company) is going to sign our purchase order next week.” This is the “I heard I have to show traction at a conference” lie of entrepreneurs. The funny thing is that next week, the purchase order still isn’t signed. Nor the week after. The decision maker gets laid off, the CEO gets fired, there’s a natural disaster, whatever. The only way to play this card if AFTER the purchase order is signed because no investor whose money you’d want will fall for this one.

4.“Key employees are set to join us as soon as we get funded.” More often than not when a venture capitalist calls these key employees who are VPs are Microsoft, Oracle, and Sun, he gets the following response, “Who said that? I recall meeting him at a Churchill Club meeting, but I certainly didn’t say I would leave my cush $250,000/year job at Adobe to join his startup.” If it’s true that key employees are ready to rock and roll, have them call the venture capitalist after the meeting and testify to this effect.

5.“No one is doing what we’re doing.” This is a bummer of a lie because there are only two logical conclusions. First, no one else is doing this because there is no market for it. Second, the entrepreneur is so clueless that he can’t even use Google to figure out he has competition. Suffice it to say that the lack of a market and cluelessness is not conducive to securing an investment. As a rule of thumb, if you have a good idea, five companies are going the same thing. If you have a great idea, fifteen companies are doing the same thing.

6.“No one can do what we’re doing.” If there’s anything worse than the lack of a market and cluelessness, it’s arrogance. No one else can do this until the first company does it, and ten others spring up in the next ninety days. Let’s see, no one else ran a sub four-minute mile after Roger Bannister. (It took only a month before John Landy did). The world is a big place. There are lots of smart people in it. Entrepreneurs are kidding themselves if they think they have any kind of monopoly on knowledge. And, sure as I’m a Macintosh user, on the same day that an entrepreneur tells this lie, the venture capitalist will have met with another company that’s doing the same thing.

7.“Hurry because several other venture capital firms are interested.” The good news: There are maybe one hundred entrepreneurs in the world who can make this claim. The bad news: The fact that you are reading a blog about venture capital means you’re not one of them. As my mother used to say, “Never play Russian roulette with an Uzi.” For the absolute cream of the crop, there is competition for a deal, and an entrepreneur can scare other investors to make a decision. For the rest of us, don’t think one can create a sense of scarcity when it’s not true. Re-read the previous blog about the lies of venture capitalists, to learn how entrepreneurs are hearing “maybe” when venture capitalists are saying “no.”

8.“Oracle is too big/dumb/slow to be a threat.” Larry Ellison has his own jet. He can keep the San Jose Airport open for his late night landings. His boat is so big that it can barely get under the Golden Gate Bridge. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are flying on Southwest out of Oakland and stealing the free peanuts. There’s a reason why Larry is where he is, and entrepreneurs are where they are, and it’s not that he’s big, dumb, and slow. Competing with Oracle, Microsoft, and other large companies is a very difficult task. Entrepreneurs who utter this lie look at best naive. You think it’s bravado, but venture capitalists think it’s stupidity.

9.“We have a proven management team.” Says who? Because the founder worked at Morgan Stanley for a summer? Or McKinsey for two years? Or he made sure that John Sculley’s Macintosh could power on? Truly “proven” in a venture capitalist’s eyes is founder of a company that returned billions to its investors. But if the entrepreneur were that proven, that he (a) probably wouldn’t have to ask for money; (b) wouldn’t be claiming that he’s proven. (Do you think Wayne Gretzky went around saying, “I am a good hockey player”?) A better strategy is for the entrepreneur to state that (a) she has relevant industry experience; (b) she is going to do whatever it takes to succeed; (c) she is going to surround herself with directors and advisors who are proven; and (d) she’ll step aside whenever it becomes necessary. This is good enough for a venture capitalist that believes in what the entrepreneur is doing.

10.“Patents make our product defensible.” The optimal number of times to use the P word in a presentation is one. Just once, say, “We have filed patents for what we are doing.” Done. The second time you say it, venture capitalists begin to suspect that you are depending too much on patents for defensibility. The third time you say it, you are holding a sign above your head that says, “I am clueless.” Sure, you should patent what you’re doing–if for no other reason than to say it once in your presentation. But at the end of the patents are mostly good for impressing your parents. You won’t have the time or money to sue anyone with a pocket deep enough to be worth suing.

11.“All we have to do is get 1% of the market.” (Here’s a bonus since I still have battery power.) This lie is the flip side of “the market will be $50 billion.” There are two problems with this lie. First, no venture capitalist is interested in a company that is looking to get 1% or so of a market. Frankly, we want our companies to face the wrath of the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice. Second, it’s also not that easy to get 1% of any market, so you look silly pretending that it is. Generally, it’s much better for entrepreneurs to show a realistic appreciation of the difficulty of building a successful company.
PS: here is an interesting commentary on this blog by Jason Fried.
Written at: Vallco Shopping Center, Cupertino, California

Read more: Guy Kawasaki
PS: here is an interesting commentary on this blog by Jason Fried.

The Top Ten Lies of Venture Capitalists

January 05, 2006
Venture capitalists are simple people: we’ve either decided to invest, and we are convincing ourselves that our gut is right (aka, “due diligence”) or there’s not a chance in hell. While we may be simple, we’re not necessarily forthcoming, so if you think it’s hard to get a “yes” out of venture capitalist, you should try to get a conclusive “no.”

This is because there’s no upside to communicating a negative decision. Entrepreneurs will simply hate us sooner–instead the game is to string along entrepreneurs in case something miraculous happens to make them look better. (An example of a miracle would be Boeing approving a $5 million purchase order.)

Alas, entrepreneurs are also simple people: If they don’t hear a conclusive “no,” they assume the answer is yes. This is an example of the kind of breakdown of communication between venture capitalists and entrepreneurs that causes much pain and frustration for entrepreneurs.

To foster greater understanding among the two groups, here is an exposé of the top ten lies of venture capitalists.

1.“I liked your company, but my partners didn’t.” In other words, “no.” What the sponsor is trying to get the entrepreneur to believe is that he’s the good guy, the smart guy, the guy who gets it; the “others” didn’t, so don’t blame him. This is a cop out; it’s not the other partners didn’t like the deal as much as the sponsor wasn’t a true believer. A true believer would get it done.

2.“If you get a lead, we will follow.” In other words, “no.” As the old Japanese say, “If your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle.” Well, she doesn’t have balls, so it doesn’t matter. The venture capitalist is saying, “ We don’t really believe, but if you can get Sequoia to lead, we’ll jump on the pile.” In other words, once the entrepreneur doesn’t need the money, the venture capitalist would be happy to give him some more–this is like saying, “Once you’ve stopped Larry Csonka cold, we’ll help you tackle him.” What entrepreneurs want to hear is, “If you can’t get a lead, we will.” That’s a believer.

3.“Show us some traction, and we’ll invest.” In other words, “no.” This lie translates to “I don’t believe your story, but if you can prove it by achieving significant revenue, then you might convince me. However, I don’t want to tell you ‘no’ because I might be wrong and by golly you may sign up a Fortune 500 customer and then I’d look like a total orifice.”

4.“We love to co-invest with other venture capitalists.” Like the sun rising and Canadians playing hockey, you can depend on the greed of venture capitalists. Greed in this business translates to “If this is a good deal, I want it all.” What entrepreneurs want to hear is, “We want the whole round. We don’t want any other investors.” Then it’s the entrepreneur’s job to convince them why other investors can make the pie bigger as opposed to re-configuring the slices.

5.“We’re investing in your team.” This is an incomplete statement. While it’s true that they are investing in the team, entrepreneurs are hearing, “We won’t fire you–why would we fire you if we invested because of you?” That’s not what the venture capitalist is saying at all. What she is saying is, “We’re investing in your team as long as things are going well, but if they go bad we will fire your ass because no one is indispensable.”

6.“I have lots of bandwidth to dedicate to your company.” Maybe the venture capitalist is talking about the T3 line into his office, but he’s not talking about his personal calendar because he’s already on ten boards. Counting board meetings, an entrepreneur should assume that a venture capitalist will spend between five to ten hours a month on a company. That’s it. Deal with it. And make board meetings short!

7.“This is a vanilla term sheet.” There is no such thing as a vanilla term sheet. Do you think corporate finance attorneys are paid $400/hour to push out vanilla term sheets? If entrepreneurs insist on using a flavor of ice cream to describe term sheets, the only flavor that works is Rocky Road. This is why they need their own $400/hour attorney too–as opposed to Uncle Joe the divorce lawyer.

8.“We can open up doors for you at our client companies.” This is a double whammy of lie. First, a venture capitalist can’t always open up doors at client companies. Frankly, he might be hated by the client company. The worst thing in the world may be a referral from him. Second, even if the venture capitalist can open the door, entrepreneurs can’t seriously expect the company to commit to your product–that is, something that isn’t much more than a slick (10/20/30) PowerPoint presentation.

9.“We like early-stage investing.” Venture capitalists fantasize about putting $1 million into a $2 million pre-money company and end up owning 33% of the next Google. That’s early stage investing. Do you know why we all know about Google’s amazing return on investment? The same reason we all know about Michael Jordan: Googles and Michael Jordans hardly ever happen. If they were common, no one would write about them. If you scratch beneath the surface, venture capitalists want to invest in proven teams (eg., the founders of Cisco) with proven technology (eg., the basis of a Nobel Prize) in a proven market (eg., ecommerce). We are remarkably risk averse considering it’s not even our money.

10. I’m at a Starbucks in Hawaii writing this blog. I’ve been at it for ninety minutes. I don’t have my charger with me. My PowerBook is out of gas. You’re going to have to be happy with the top nine lies of venture capitalists until “Dear God” ships the PowerBook Vaio.
Written at: Starbucks Ward Center, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Read more: Guy Kawasaki

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